24 hours ago

‘Hey, bro, name’s Blake.’ I held out my hand, and then withdrew it. My palms were soaked with sweat.

‘Joe.’ The big black face smiled as he looked at my hand.

‘Have you got the stuff?’

‘I must phone my boy to meet him. Can I use your phone?’

I pulled out my new cell.

‘Ha! That is a computer man!’

‘I know, look after it.’ I handed Joe the roll of cash.

I turned and slid into position to play my pool shot. My object ball entered the pocket with a dull explosion. A general murmur from the crowd gave me a satisfaction that I never grew tired of.

‘Nice shot bru’ my opponent winked at me.

I stood up to swirl the cue around my body, ‘get really good at something that you can do in a crowd.’

I could feel Joe’s breath on my face, smelling faintly of peppermint.

‘I can’t hear anything in here man. I go outside quickly and make call there.’

I looked in irritation at the band churning out manic brass blues.

‘Hurry up! I’m almost out of battery life.’

‘No problem, I be back now now.’

I ran through to the toilets, had a quick piss. When I returned a new game was set, my challenger a girl.

‘Good luck.’ I went to shake her hand, changed my mind.

‘Did you just give that guy your phone?’

‘Joe?’

‘Go and get your phone dude!’

I turned slowly and then more quickly ran to the door, down the stairs and into the street. Joe was nowhere to be seen.

Oh for fuck’s sake! What kind of a man would do that?

22 hours ago

The coke was making me mad. I was driving around, completely drunk, feeling abnormally horny. I had tried to call my cell but it was dead. I needed to phone Nick quickly. I pulled over the side of the road and stumbled up to a pay phone. Nick’s cell was the one number I knew by heart.

I still had eight hundred. No, five hundred. The gram from the street dealer had cost me three hundred so I had five hundred left. I needed it after getting ripped off. I had only done this job to get a gram for myself anyway. It wasn’t my fault the money was gone. I had needed a line.

‘Hello?’ My hands were so sweaty that I had difficulty holding the pay phone.

‘Hi, Nick.’

‘Where’s the coke?’

‘I’ve had a little bit of trouble.’

‘What trouble?’

‘Some guy ripped me off. The money’s gone.’

‘I need that money bru!’

‘I’ll get it back to you soon.’

‘That’s four grand bru! You’ll never get it back.’

‘I will, trust me! I have some of it left.’

‘I want that money in full. You have until Monday. I will come to your pretty white house and burn it. I will burn you bru.’

Nick disconnected.

Now I felt terrified and horny.I needed to get laid. I considered going to a club and trying to pick up a woman. The problem was it all took too damn long. It took negotiation and smiles and humour and coercion. There was no guarantee of success. Girls can sense when you just want to take them home and screw them. Sometimes they like it, but more often than not they don’t.

Also I wasn’t feeling so good about myself. My skin was pale and spotty and glossed with perspiration. I was also very jumpy. I could no longer talk to people. I could only manage to talk at them and their voices were a far-off wave crashing into the continent of my self-absorption.They would never go for me.

For a moment I thought of being an equal opportunity employer to my addictions and hitting Grand West Casino to play the tables. Sometimes, when in the grip of cocaine fuelled psycho sexual lust patrols, it is best to substitute addictions. It was a drive though, a long drive, and I was drunk. That could mean death. Death was bad. Perhaps I deserved it: I had made my bed.

Also I only had five hundred bucks on me. At the casino things quickly go one of two ways: In my case, more often than not, they went the less favourable way. Five hundred wasn’t enough of a cushion. Chances were then that I would wind up in an hour with a bigger debt and a few more beers in my system. Then I was even closer to death on the way back.

Besides, I looked horrible and felt ghastly. Chicks and luck never go for that.

I carried on driving through Sea Point, watching the girls standing on the street corners trying to attract customers. They were real pieces of work, absolutely foul, some of them big black girls with legs like chocolate cottage cheese.

I checked a lovely young coloured girl in a blue dress on the next corner. That’s not bad, I thought. God I was horny. Towards the end of Sea Point I saw the glowing lavender fluorescence of a popular escort agency to the right and turned into the side street. I sat in the car, heart pounding and considered my options. Nobody would see me. It was a new experience.

I jumped out of the car and ran quickly across the street. I smelt garbage from the bins along the wall. There was a buzzer which I pressed at the metal gate, my stomach suddenly cramping. Walking in I saw a surprising number of people in the red smoke glow of the room. There were a lot of big Nigerians.

Christ! What if Nick came here?

‘Hi, welcome to Cherries, can I help you?’

I turned to face her. This woman took no trouble, I could see it. Her voice was flat and grey and hard, like concrete.

‘How much is it?’

‘R500 rand for one hour. Meet the girls and make your pick. They’ll take you upstairs. We accept cash and credit cards.’

Christ, I thought. That’s my whole stash. Then I’m really fucking fucked.

‘Can’t I get like half an hour babe, or even twenty minutes? I’ve got two hundred bucks to spend, max. It’s my birthday.’

‘No fucking way, do you have the cash or not?’

I thought about it. I thought of holding perfect hazel breasts in my hands. Then I pictured them sliding off with all the sweat on my palms. With three hundred I could still make a plan but with no cash I was gone. Two hundred bucks was what I had to spend. An image flashed into my mind. It was of a young girl in a blue dress standing by the side of the road.

16 hours ago

Christ I was hungry. My mouth was so dry. For the last hour I had been awake but the thought of having to go into the world was just dreadful. I wanted to stay asleep. Every ten minutes or so I managed to hypnotise myself into a tiny dream but they were thinning out as the sun began pushing against my closed blinds like an immense hot octopus.

My head was so sore. I needed to get up and take a bunch of pain killers, maybe down them with a beer. A beer was the first step to taking on a coke hangover. That was it, I needed to get up. My body like a ship wreck lying on the sea floor. I imagined my bones snapping as I forced my stomach muscles to haul me into a sitting position.

I got up and limped through to the kitchen. The place was ruined with cigarettes and beer bottles. The smell was overpowering. It was halfway vomit. On the table I saw my wallet, flipped it open. Three hundred bucks.

‘Fuck sake!’ I felt aweful.

I flipped my answering machine on as I walked to the fridge – One message. I opened the fridge. The milk was clearly off and erupted into my nose like a puffy white disease. I held my breath and grabbed a beer. I needed to get more.

‘Howzit bru, it’s Dan! Listen I just wanted to tell my most special china that there is a nice big poker tourney tonight at the Slick. Juicy money, lots of donkeys, lots of fish, maybe four grand first prize.’

I don’t have money to enter you idiot.

‘I can read your thoughts bru. You don’t have cash but remember this. You are the china that used to be the king at the tables; the king bru! I don’t know what’s been happening on your side but make a turn – it’s only three hundred bucks.’

Two hours ago

‘Blake! Howzit my china?’

‘Hey man.’ I felt sick looking at him. He was so full of life. He had a black T-shirt on with the word GOLDEN printed across his chest in gold vinyl.

‘So I hear this thing is only paying out three places, with a bigger cut for the winner. Third place is five hundred bucks, second place a grand and first place four grand. Four grand baby!’

‘Yea I heard Danny. Fuck I could do with that cash. I need four grand right now like I have never needed four grand in my life. Trust me.’

‘Me too. Check this out my china. I am getting a ring tomorrow and I am going to propose to Donna. That first prize is mine. It’s destiny.’

Oh for fuck’s sake! How perfect can he get?

‘Well good luck bru.’

I shuffled off, feeling sick. I hadn’t had enough sleep. I felt embarrassed in front of Dan. I used to be the centre of the whirlwind, and now I hardly had anything to say. I felt used up, dried out.

I needed a beer.

One hour ago

Strangely things were going well. I had managed to calm myself in an underwater lagoon of black label beer. I had been playing well, aggressively. I had a reputation. People feared me.

Now I remembered why I loved Poker. Master something you can do well in a crowd. Here I was God, omnipotent. I felt a whole lot better in fact. The Chi of the cards was racing through my bones. This was better than cocaine and Grandwest.

I’ll have the cash tomorrow Nick, come hell or high water.

Present

So this was it, ground zero. Like Danny had said, destiny. Two players left, him and me, both with equal stacks.

‘I’m so glad you got me to come here, Dan my bru.’

‘Me too china, second place is a grand for you.’

‘I need the first prize Danny boy, please believe me.’

‘What are you talking about? I am getting married! This cash is going to my wedding ring you monkey! What do you need it for?’

And of course I couldn’t answer that question. Three people from the crowd had actually spontaneously applauded when Dan announced his marriage.

What’s the matter with you people? I need to pay a coke dealer before he burns my miserable ass!

The dealer dealt our cards. I glanced at them carefully. Cowboys; a pair of kings. Dan got his cards and looked implacable. The flop came down, three cards dancing through the fingers of the dealer. Two kings, clubs and spades and a queen of spades. I had four of a kind on the flop!

‘Danny my bru, fold this one.’

Dan announced raise and doubled the blind. I re-raised and Dan immediately re-raised again. I was wracked with sympathy but just called. The next card was an ace of spades. So maybe he had a flush or a full house but he could not beat the quad kings.

Dan went all in and suddenly I felt my stomach tighten again. I was going to win and get my way. Tomorrow morning I would wake up and know that I had the cash for Nick. On the other hand, Dan was going to have the worst day ever. The power was now in my hands. Maybe by a moral decision I could be forgiven some of my sins. Maybe my luck would change. I could give Nick one grand and beg for my life.

Fuckit.

On the other hand, my life was at stake. The crowd grew tense, like a horde of mongoose surrounding a snake. I looked at my old friend sadly and made my decision.

Ten minutes later

‘Nobody move! This is a South African police raid. Everyone is to remain seated with their hands on the tables.’

Suddenly there were cops everywhere, forcing people back into their seats. As I turned around I saw TV cameras moving toward me, filming me. I could just see it. My parents switching on Carte Blanche next week, seeing my pale sweaty face, dozens of police officers. This was turning out to be the worst weekend of my life.

‘You are all being arrested for illegal gambling. Please remain where you are and wait for an officer to come around and take your details. Please do not attempt to lie. We have the owner’s laptop with all of your entry details so we will be checking every name.’

Some guys started arguing, especially one older guy, who almost punched the camera man. Clearly he needed to protect his identity at all costs.

After they had taken down all our names, we were escorted in groups arranged by table numbers down to the street level, two floors below. On the way we passed two trendy bars and restaurants where it seemed that everyone recognised me. I felt like dying of shame.

Out on the street I was stunned to see about nine cop vans, pulled onto the pavements. They had arrived with every member of the Sea Point police station! What a waste of money. Murderers and drug dealers were ruling the streets while they were arresting harmless members of society.

Fucking ridiculous.

For the first time in my life I was pushed into a cop van. With eight guys in there it was hot and uncomfortable. It smelled of sweat and fear. I wanted to throw up but everyone was in such a bad mood that I probably would have been punched.

One hour later

After driving to the police station at high speed, we had been forced to wait in the van for forty minutes. I felt like I was losing his mind. The heat was intense. My whole body was wet with sweat.

So this was it. My life was over. In twenty four hours I had been whoring, gambling, drinking, smoking, drugging and in a few days, when I managed to get bail by roping in my horrified parents – pending my ultimate jail sentence – I was going to be murdered. Fucking great Blake, nice life you’ve made for yourself.

Eventually we were dragged out of the van and into the police station. The place was a chaotic mess. Over in the corner a hooker was screaming and fighting with two cops. I nearly had a heart attack when I saw it was the girl with the blue dress. I was taken into a separate interview room.

‘You’re a pretty boy Blake,’ the cop chuckled venomously as he took down my statement, ‘just the way they like them at Polsmoor Prison.’

Fuck sake.

‘You see the cell back there? That’s where you spend the night. Tomorrow you’ll find out what’s coming to you boytjie.’

12 hours later

I woke up feeling stiff and sore. As I was taken through into the corridor I bumped into Dan, who was smiling.

‘What are you smiling about bru?’

‘I am going to get a wedding ring today. This is my last moment in the darkness.’

‘Oh yea of course’ I hesitated ‘good luck.’

‘Blake why did you fold your hand yesterday, without showing anyone?’

‘I wanted to do something right.’ I laughed suddenly and felt my mood lift as a few shards of morning light speared through a cracked window. ‘You know bru I had four of a kind.’

‘I know. It means a lot to me. Everything here makes sense because of that.’

‘Consider it a wedding present.’ I laughed again.

‘I knew something was up and I was watching to see what you would do, whether you cared how important it was for me to win. You know what the irony is though? I had ten and jack of spades, a straight flush. You would have lost anyway.’

Fuckit.

I suddenly felt a weight lift off my shoulders.

‘Be quiet there!’ shouted a cop at the group of guys around me. ‘The good news is that we won’t press any charges. All of you guys will pay the guilt of admission fine of two hundred rand then you are free to go. I hope you’re learned your lesson.’

I wanted to do a back-flip with joy. Eight hundred left from my second place and no prison time. I wasn’t dead yet.

‘Does anyone have anything left to ask?’

Nobody said anything.

I turned and followed the other ou’s down a passage and into another waiting room. Sitting sheepishly on a bench was Joe the dealer.

‘What the fuck?’

‘Don’t be angry bru.’

‘You robbed me!’

‘Shhhh! Come talk to me here quietly.’

He indicated the seat next to him on the bench and whispered to me.

‘I didn’t rob you. What kind of a man do you think I am? When I came downstairs and got the coke from my friend, the cops jumped me. I waited for your call but the battery died. If you press charges, I am finished!’

‘Where’s the cash?’

Big Joe smiled and surreptitiously reached down and removed his shoe which he placed on the seat between us. It smelled like an abandoned puppy kennel. Inside it I saw a roll of cash and my phone, both of which I quickly pocketed.

‘Three thousand two hundred bru, it’s all there.’

I was square.

‘Did you lose the coke?’

‘No bru,’ he chuckled, ‘We stashed it. My friend has it in Seapoint. You want it?’

‘I’ll speak to my partner.’

As I walked out into my beautiful new day, my brain was racing.

I saw a girl sitting on a bench, watching the ocean, her blue dress blowing in the wind. In the daylight, the dress looked less glamorous. It was thin and patched. I sat down next to her and she turned to face me. She was young but already lines of stress were etched into her face.

‘I was arrested just after you left me’ she laughed. ‘My next trick was a cop. Good trick huh?’

‘You never know how things are going to turn out.’

‘But a good deed…’ she paused for a moment ‘You know you could have slept with me. You didn’t have to pay me.’

‘You looked like you needed it.’

Do you know that that was all the money I had? It bailed me out. Without it I would have still been in there!’

‘Do you have a phone I can use? My battery is dead.’

‘Sure.’ She handed me a beat up old Nokia.

I walked away from her a bit before phoning Nick. I was surprised to hear a distraught sounding Candice on the line, his girlfriend.

‘What’s up Candice, you sound like you’ve been crying?’

‘It’s bad Mr Blake, very bad! Nick got caught last night with a big shipment, two kilo’s of coke. They took him away and are going to deport him this week. There is no money left for his family here, for my kids!’

‘That’s terrible Candy, I wish I could help.’

‘Does he owe you money Mr Blake?’

I paused and smiled, ‘A little bit, but don’t worry about it. I hope you’re going to be okay. I was also arrested but I’m ok. Goodbye.’

Blake cut the call and sauntered over to the girl.

‘I never did get your name.’

‘It’s Lulu.’

‘You want to make some real money Lulu?’

‘I would love to!’ She smiled like a child at the thought and grabbed my hand. I let her hold it. My palms felt warm and dry.

‘I need you to speak to a friend of mine named Joe. He’ll be out of the station in about an hour.’

I turned and faced the sea, my grin widening as the carrion rank of dead rotting sea weed floated in the morning mist.

Fuckit, I’m back in business!